Wildlife and Zoos

Japan is home to more species than most other countries in the world thanks to the archipelago's large north-south extension from subarctic to subtropical latitudes and the abundance of marine life along her coast. Japan's islands are inhabited by land animals such as bears, foxes, monkeys, deer, wild boars and birds. Furthermore, there are numerous aquariums and zoos of varying quality across the country. Below is a selection of some of the best animal related destinations:

Wildlife Destinations

Shiretoko Peninsula (more details)
Located on the Shiretoko Peninsula in eastern Hokkaido, Shiretoko National Park is one of Japan's most beautiful and unspoiled national parks. The peninsula is home to a variety of wildlife, including deer, foxes, eagles and one of the world's densest populations of brown bears.

Ogasawara Islands (more details)
The Ogasawara Islands are a remote chain of islands about 1000 kilometers south of Tokyo. They feature many endemic plants and animals, earning them the title "the Galapagos of the Orient" as they have never been connected to the Japanese mainland or any continent. Activities include whale watching, swimming with dolphins, observing sea turtles, snorkeling, diving and hiking.

Kagoshima Prefecture
Yakushima (more details)
Yakushima is a subtropical island south of Kagoshima covered by an extensive cedar forest that contains some of Japan's oldest living trees. While hiking through the forests, visitors are likely to see Yakushima deer and monkeys. Other outdoor activities include observing nesting sea turtles, snorkeling and scuba diving.

Okinawa Prefecture
Okinawa (more details)
Okinawa is Japan's southernmost prefecture, consisting of numerous small islands. The seas surrounding Okinawa are considered among the world's most beautiful with coral reefs and abundant marine wildlife. Naturally, snorkeling and diving are very popular activities there.

Best Zoos

Asahiyama Zoo (more details)
Asahiyama Zoo is a very popular zoological garden outside of central Asahikawa City in the middle of Hokkaido. One of the main draws of the zoo are glass tunnels and domes in the enclosures which allows visitors to observe the animals from various angles. In the winter, there are penguin parades.

Zoorasia (more details)
Established in 1999, Zoorasia is one of Japan's newest, largest and best kept zoos. There are about 100 species of animals at Zoorasia spread out amongst several ecological areas that mimic their natural habitats. Visitors can expect to see savannah animals, primates, reptiles and birds at the zoo.

Best Aquariums

Okinawa Honto
Churaumi Aquarium (more details)
Located in subtropical Okinawa Prefecture, Churaumi Aquarium is unequivocally Japan's best aquarium. Its massive main tank is one of the largest in the world and home to several whale sharks. The aquarium also has a variety of different exhibits such as a shark tank, bio-luminous fish and several animal shows.

Osaka Aquarium (more details)
Widely considered Japan's second best aquarium after the Churaumi Aquarium, Osaka Aquarium introduces the sea life of the Pacific Rim. Visitors enter on the 8th floor and spiral their way downward around a large central tank which houses a whale shark. Several of the tanks span multiple floors making it possible to observe the animals from different perspectives.

More aquariums in Japan...

Bird Sanctuaries

Kushiro Marshland (more details)
The Kushiro Marshland in Hokkaido was designated as national park in 1987 in order to preserve the country's largest wetland and marsh habitat which supports the only known population of endangered Japanese red-crowned cranes in Japan. Visitors can see wild cranes around feeding stations in winter and all year round at a breeding center.

Kinosaki Onsen
Konotori no Sato Park (more details)
Konotori no Sato is a stork-breeding habitat near Kinosaki Onsen. It is part of a program that successfully reintroduced Oriental Storks to Japan after the last native bird had died in 1971. Visitors can see the storks on the sanctuary grounds and learn about their breeding and conservation programs.

Monkey Parks

Jigokudani Monkey Park (more details)
The Jigokudani Monkey Park in Yamanouchi is well-known for its wild monkeys that bath in a natural hot spring. Visitors can observe the monkeys up close and walk among them. While the park is open all year around, the bathing monkeys are especially photogenic in the winter when the area is covered in snow.

Monkey Park Iwatayama (more details)
The Monkey Park Iwatayama is located in the Arashiyama mountains in Kyoto. Visitors have to hike about ten minute uphill to reach the freely roaming monkeys. The park also offers nice views over Kyoto.

Takasakiyama Monkey Park (more details)
Takasaki Monkey Park is located on Mount Takasaki, a forested mountain just outside of Beppu. The park is home to more than 1500 wild Japanese monkeys that are fed regularly by park wardens.

Roaming Deer

Nara Park (more details)
Nara Park is a large park in central Nara that is home to many of Nara's main attractions as well as hundreds of freely roaming deer. Considered messengers of the gods, these Nara deer have become a symbol of the city. Visitors can purchase crackers to feed the deer but should exercise caution as some of the deer can become quite pushy when food is involved.

Hiroshima Prefecture
Miyajima (more details)
Miyajima is a small island less than an hour outside of Hiroshima. The island is most famous for its giant torii gate and shrine built over the water. Wild deer roam the island freely and sleep along the walking paths. Visitors are not allowed to feed the deer and should watch out for aggressive deer who may go for your paper or food.

Animal Islands

Tashiro Island (more details)
Tashiro Island is one of multiple "cat islands" in Japan known for their large feline populations. The small, rural island can be reached in a ferry ride from Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture.

Animal Related Museums

Kaga Onsen
Ishikawa Insect Museum (more details)
The Ishikawa Insect Museum in Hakusan City is an insectarium with a variety of live exhibits. The highlight is a beautifully designed butterfly garden with around 800 butterflies of different species.

Dinosaur Museum (more details)
The Dinosaur Museum in Fukui is an excellent museum dedicated to dinosaurs. The exhibits in the museum are spread over four floors, including more than 40 dinosaur skeletons, animatronic dinosaurs, a hands-on zone and a research laboratory to watch the professionals at work.

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Page last updated: December 4, 2015